UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement hold National Forum to Prevent Family Separation in Myanmar
JOINT PRESS RELEASE
YANGON, 27 May 2014 – Recognizing that children thrive in supportive family environments, UNICEF and the Myanmar Department of Social Welfare, under the leadership of the Union Minister, today held a National Forum on the Prevention of Family Separation in Myanmar. The National Forum brought together some 150 participants from civil society, embassies, government, the private sector, and medical professionals to raise awareness that many children are being unnecessarily separated from their families and that growing up in residential care has an adverse effect on children’s development and puts them at increased risk of exploitation and abuse.
Opened by Her Excellency Dr. Myat Myat Ohn Khin, Union Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement; Her Excellency Bronte Moules, the Ambassador of Australia; and Bertrand Bainvel, Representative of UNICEF Myanmar; the National Forum revealed the long term damage experienced by children who grow up in residential care, including in orphanages and institutions. Physical and psychological harm including higher rates of suicide, lower IQ scores, and emotional problems, arise from family separation. Discussions demonstrated that orphanages and institutions present a heightened risk of exposure to exploitation, trafficking, abuse and sexual abuse.
The Minister for Social Welfare, in her opening address, stated that “according to international research, the development of children who grow up with a family or in a family like environment is much better than [that of] children who grow up in institutions”.
Not only is placement in institutional care harmful to children but it is often unnecessary. In Myanmar, a study on residential care facilities* concluded that 73 per cent of Myanmar children in institutional care had one or both parents still alive. Yet, there has been an increase in children living in institutional care, with 17,322 children living in 217 registered care facilities in 2010, compared to 14,410 children in 177 registered facilities in 2006. “Poverty [and a] lack of access to quality education are some of the main reasons children are placed under orphanage care and separated from the family,” Her Excellency, the Minister of Social Welfare said.
Panel discussions at the National Forum highlighted the links between tourism, orphanage care and the sexual exploitation of children. Worrying trends have emerged in a few countries in Asia where tourism booms over recent decades have increased the number of orphanages and the removal of children from their families. In Cambodia between 2005 and 2010 for example, a sixty-five per cent increase in tourism was accompanied by a sixty-five per cent increase in the number of orphanages.
“When the global evidence surrounding the harmful nature of orphanage care is clear, we need to promote solutions that focus on supporting families first,” said Mr. Bainvel. “There are better alternatives for children such as kinship care, which is quite common practice in Myanmar, and developing foster care and domestic adoption”, Mr. Bainvel added.
“UNICEF, the government, civil society and the private sector are working in partnership to prevent the separation of families and to promote alternatives to institutional care. What is needed is a comprehensive study on orphanage care; a review of regulations in order to make residential care exceptional and safe; and to secure increased budget allocations for Child Protection. Every child’s right to live and grow in a family needs to be protected and promoted by all”, Mr. Bainvel concluded. [Ends]
*To access a copy of ‘The Situation of Children Living in Residential Care Facilities in Myanmar’ (2011), and to find out more about how to Prevent Family Separation, visit www.unicef.org/myanmar/.
UNICEF in Myanmar